I have written frequently about the changing role of the individual in the Digital Age (here and here to cite two posts). In Einstein's Ideas and Opinions he describes how the Renaissance was a period where individuals made the significant contributions. As population became more dense, the need arose for organizations, as the means to address society's problems. These organizations developed the technology to make themselves more effective and efficient. In summary, as population density changes humans reorganize to address the new problems and develop supporting technology.
Basically, I think we are at another one of those inflection points based on population density. My reasoning is as follows:
- The population will increase by approximately 50% by 2100 to 10 billion
- Over 50% of the population now live in cities and the rate is increasing
- Wide spread discussion of public private partnerships to address social problems indicates a need for a new form of organization
- The easy gains in productivity improvement from computer technology are over because computing technology is now fully developed. (See article here.)
If the choices to address the population density problem are two-- individuals or organizations-- and organizations have reached their point of maximum efficiency and effectiveness with current technology: then we have three choices:
- Find new technology that addresses the need for greater effectiveness and efficiency in the current forms of organization. Perhaps the use of outer space is the answer (Go Get an Asteroid Academic VC). Some experts say that we have waited too long and no technology can save us from population growth.
- Redefine the individual through technology. Some might argue that crowd sourcing and (social) networking are proof that the role of the individual is again changing, but neither of these examples produce any meaningful gains in productivity or efficiency. To improve the effectiveness of the individual we have to harness a greater percentage of their intelligence or their physical productivity. Perhaps embedding computing devices inside the person is the answer.
- Redefine government, as a significant form of organization, perhaps returning to minimal government. Government originally emerged as a means to prevent unfair interference to people and markets. Over time that role expanded and government became a substitute in many ways for individual empowerment. Perhaps we need to return to an environment where the individual is more responsible and the government is a referee and not a player.
In conclusion, this is not a post about the dangers of population growth. Human beings re-organize when population density changes (Einstein). I think we have exhausted the benefits from the current forms of organization. We have maxed out the benefits of current computing technology. My guess is we need to re-design the effectiveness of the individual or mankind will fail to address a new era of population density. While the Digital Age is getting all the press, I now think that it is not the technology to address a new era but rather the dramatic end to the last era. Opportunities still exist to better use computer technology, e.g. education, but the bigger opportunities may be in recognizing a new era in the history of mankind. Whether existing governments with their bureaucracies focused on the status quo will permit the necessary changes may be the biggest challenge.
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